Scrap the bill

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Scrap the bill

 A controversial revision to the Media Arbitration Act failed to pass a regular session of the National Assembly after the ruling Democratic Party (DP) agreed to talk with the opposition People Power Party (PPP) to set up a special committee to discuss problematic clauses in the revised bill until the end of the year instead of railroading it through the legislature.

It is fortunate that the DP accepted the postponement of the revised bill, justly characterized as a “media gagging act” and “press punishing act” due to its poisonous clauses, which would make media outlets, for instance, pay penalties ten times the damages claimed against them for “fake news.” Both parties plan to put all related laws on the table and discuss effective ways to reform the media. But the revised bill is most likely doomed as no consensus can be reached on the toxic clauses between the two sides.

We welcome the decision by the two parties. In fact, the controversial clauses such as the punitive damages and authorization of a ban on online news when the need arises were strongly opposed by all local press organizations and even foreign media associations, including the World Association of News Publishers (WAN) and the International Press Institute (IPI). The UN Human Rights Commission went so far as to send a letter of concern to the Moon Jae-in administration followed by the National Human Rights Commission’s expression of concern. The DP belatedly came up with another revision to negotiate with the PPP, but it too was met with strong criticism. Some said it was worse than the original revision.

We are amazed at the way hard-liners in the DP behaved before it decided to not push the revision through. After the National Assembly speaker demanded both parties reach an agreement before putting the bill to a vote, more than 30 hawkish lawmakers of the DP threatened to take an “extraordinary action” if the revised bill was not put to a vote. While former Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae defined it as a “surrender to the press and PPP” on Facebook as expected, a number of zealots in the DP posted denunciations of the speaker and floor leader of the party on its website.

The DP must not push the passage of the malicious bill until after 2021. The party must immediately abandon the bill as it is full of unconstitutional provisions. The PPP is concerned that the DP would rekindle the flame after it elects its presidential candidate in the March 9 election.

President Moon Jae-in also pointed to the need to review controversial clauses of the bill given the avalanche of criticisms from local media organizations, civic groups and international community. That reflects his opposition to railroading the revision without an agreement with the PPP. The president’s caution was joined by the government minister in charge, who underscored the role of a government to protect the “freedom of speech at maximum levels.” We hope the DP does not make another fatal fumble ahead of the presidential election next year.
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